Guns N' Roses, London Stadium review - venue almost ruins night of glory; The Not in This Lifeti


From The Arts Desk

It had been a perfect summer's day and the excitement before Friday night's gig was palpable. Everyone knew how Axl had aced it, right here, a year ago, filling in as AC/DC's lead singer. Around the stadium denim-clad punters sipped ice-cool beer and discussed how this reunion was going to sound. Many hoped that it would be just like when the classic line-up last played London in 1992. Except, this time, the sound quality would be better.

Unfortunately, for many, the latter wasn't to be. As the band launched into "It's So Easy" smiles of anticipation turned into looks of disbelief - the acoustic at the back of the venue felt like sludge. The culprit seemed to be the phasing of the central and rear speakers, meaning the music and images on the big screen were, often, barely in the same time zone. One guy behind me opined that those drinking in the bars outside could probably hear Axl and Slash more clearly.

To make matters worse, it wasn't just any old songs being ruined, it was classics like "Mr Brownstone" and "Welcome to the Jungle". But rock fans are made of stern stuff and a sense of defiance soon swept through the stands. This crowd weren't going to let a dodgy sound system ruin their night. Especially given how hard the band were rocking.

Axl, if not particularly lean, was certainly looking moody. A cowboy hat sat atop his head while his hips swivelled snake-like. Most importantly, his voice was moving fluidly up its five and a half octaves, and Slash's fingers moved as nimbly as ever across the fretboard. Down at the mosh pit, the crowd were ecstatic.

Then came a slight lull. During "Better", and "Estranged" – songs which even diehard fans barely remember – the excitement dipped. With little else going on the screens or stage, this was a time to catch your breath and engineers to get to grips with the speakers.

A few adjustments later, sonically things began to improve. With clearer acoustics, "Civil War" was full of pomp and bombast whilst "Yesterdays" felt tearful and nostalgic. Meanwhile the light was starting to dim, and by the time Slash embarked on his blistering solo spot, the sound quality for the whole venue was finally coming together. Just in the nick of time.

The evening's climax, "Sweet Child O' Mine", was a thing of true beauty. Unsurprisingly, many fans looked like they could die happy for having heard Axl and Slash perform it. The two main men may have barely exchanged a glance all night, but individually they looked pleased as punch. It was then the turn of the rhythm guitarist, Richard Fortus, to have a moment in the spotlight. The instrumental version of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" where he duetted with Slash was as sweet as it was unexpected. Another left-field cover was the piano outro from Eric Clapton's "Layla", which segued into "November Rain" while the cameras zoomed in on the bejewelled fingers tickling the ivories. For a moment it looked like it could be Elton John. But, of course, it was Axl, and the performance was both brilliant and totally over-the-top.

The rest of the set was equally thrilling: "Knocking on Heaven's Door", "Nightrain", "Patience" and the Chris Cornell tribute, "Black Hole Sun", all succeeded in evoking the band's glory days. It was only when the speakers were turned up for "Paradise City", and that awful echo returned, that we were reminded of the limitations of the London Stadium. And there was plenty of time to reflect. It took 50,000 fans well over an hour, funnelled in the sweltering heat, just to get out.

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